Sunday was indisputably a day full of drama, mostly thanks to some guy I was cheering for finding another way to make golf riveting theater.
But was it one of the best days in sports history? Let’s examine.
The best way to do this, I think, is to break it down by event.
108th U.S. Open Final Round: Forget Tiger for just a second, if you can.
Rocco Mediate, a glib 46-year-old journeyman and regional qualifier with no majors, five PGA Tour wins, none since the 2002 Greater Greensboro Open, a history of maladies, and a healthy Official World Golf Ranking of 158th with a FedEx Cup ranking of 128th, a guy with no statistical ranking higher than his 16th in eagles on tour this year (and Tiger’s three eagles so far in the Open are more than half of his five total), a golfer who went to little-known Florida Southern (a school with as geographically incorrect a name as the University of South Florida; zoom out on the link and you’ll understand) and isn’t even the best golfing alum, thanks to two-time Open champ Lee Janzen, became the first person since 2004 to finish the grueling U.S. Open under par with an even-par 71, and did so while playing with a more talented former champ, Geoff Ogilvy. A combination of equal parts simple accuracy off the tee, sound scrambling ability, and a few clutch putts (even while he missed a few) enabled Mediate to stay in red numbers down the stretch while others wilted, and his grins and repeated on-camera “Wows” made the father of three a lovable underdog and foil to the Colossus in Crimson.
Were there no Tiger, no 12-foot miracle on the 72nd hole, Mediate would be the oldest U.S. Open champion in history today.
But that performance (and Lee Westwood’s own gutty two-over 73, and Heath Slocum’s amazing bogey-free 65, tied for fifth-best round on Sunday at the Open) cannot hold a candle to Tiger Woods, who, if he is not the best golfer to ever walk the earth, is certainly the most magnetic, most dramatic athlete of his lifetime.
And Tiger, if that putt had not gone in, would have suffered his first final round defeat after holding the lead entering Sunday in a major, and to a regional qualifier, a blow that would erase much of the invincibility myth he carries, much stronger than his lost lead to the last qualifier to win the Open, Michael Campbell, in 2006.
Instead, Tiger, despite struggling off the tee throughout his round and playing truly splendid golf for only about four holes in the middle of his round, despite bogeying the 13th hole at Torrey Pines for the first time in his career, despite two borderline awful shots on the 18th, burnished his father’s prophet credentials and added a verse to his Ballad of Wounded Knee. (In my mind, that song sounds like this.)
It’s not even clearly Tiger’s most dramatic Sunday at a major championship, because his 2000 duel with Bob May down the stretch at Valhalla in the PGA Championship and his total disregard for the laws of golf, physics, and life in making the Chip Heard ‘Round the World at Augusta in 2005 were both unforgettable.
But Tiger’s 12-footer was the most important putt he’s ever made. And this round was the guttiest Tiger’s ever played.
It was beyond phenomenal.
NBA Finals Game 5: The Los Angeles Lakers will not win this series.
If they have even the vaguest prayer of winning two straight in Boston, they might want to find a way to redirect the Celtics’ team plane to Vancouver or Acapulco, or spike Paul Pierce’s Gatorade with horse tranquilizer, or convince Kevin Garnett not to show up again.
But Sunday night fanned that tiny flicker of hope.
Kobe Bryant again played as inconsistent a game as possible, starting hot and not making a good play down the stretch except his swipe of the ball from Pierce on a potential game-tying possession and subsequent dunk, the most Jordanesque thing I can ever remember him doing.
But on a night when Garnett was as anonymous as a double-double can be, when Rajon Rondo was, well, bad, and when the loss of Kendrick Perkins was actually an insurmountable obstacle for an NBA team, Pierce had 38 and nearly won the Celtics a title by himself.
There was little drama in this game until the waning moments of the fourth quarter, and Kobe’s steal removed the possibility of a game-winner, but on a night when anything would pale in comparison to Tiger Woods, it was about as good as it could have been.
Euro 2008, Turkey-Czech Republic: For a soccer fan, this was nirvana.
The highly ranked Czech Republic had a two-goal lead with 15 minutes left in regulation, and one of the best keepers in the world, Petr Cech, defending it.
Turkey poured in three goals in the next 14 minutes and rampaged back from the dead to eliminate the Czechs from Euro 2008, Cech’s hands of glue turning to stone and his defense swapping places with the Florida Gators’ secondary for fun.
I didn’t watch one minute of the game, and missed that comeback in particular while watching the last few minutes of Tigerbole before the final round, but you need look no further than this animated report to know this game is already legendary.
Oh, and in other soccer news, the United States stomped Barbados.
NASCAR: On a Sunday with Tiger Woods and Kobe Bryant working on their legacies, NASCAR would need something special to even find the radar of the average sports fan.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. winning his first race since 2006 fits the bill.
It’s the best possible outcome NASCAR could have had, placement on the ESPNews ticker for a few hours, and it shores up the unavoidable storyline of this season: Will Junior finally win a title?
Little E’s had a great season so far, his best, outpacing his title-winning teammates, Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson, and morphing from mere fan favorite to series powerhouse with Hendrick Motorsports, but his strong finishes lacked an exclamation point to announce him as a legitimate contender.
Sunday rectified that, and NASCAR has to be salivating about the idea of a new-school rivalry between series leader and bad boy Kyle Busch, the current driver most like Junior’s dad, and its uncrowned king, deciding the title this year.
But maybe the more exciting news came off the track, with the word that Joey Logano, the 18-year-old wunderkind fresh off a Nationwide series victory, will probably race in the Sprint Cup series before the year is done.
NASCAR’s been in a slump in recent years, losing the glitz race to the Danica Patrick/Helio Castroneves surge of popularity for IndyCar, and this Sunday showed that it is at least on the way back.
MLB: The New York Yankees won their fourth straight and finished a sweep of Houston, but may have lost Chien-Ming Wang in the process, the Cubs are 20 games above .500, Willie Randolph is hanging on a strand of floss, and, in news that has given the year 1997 a heart attack, Ken Griffey Jr. might accept a trade to a contending team like, eh, the Tampa Bay Rays.
For a Sunday in June, pretty packed.
College World Series: Cinderella may be a pug if Fresno State has its way.
It’s just part of a topsy-turvy College World Series that will also pit No. 1 Miami and No. 2 Florida State in an elimination game today.
It may not seem like much right this second, but Wimbledon’s in two weeks, Nadal’s never looked stronger, and Federer’s faltered at times this year. A changing of the guard may be imminent.
NFL: There were no reports of arrests.
NHL: Gary Bettman, sadly, is still commissioner of the NHL.
That’s a lot in terms of variety and drama, I think, and the most momentous day in sports in my lifetime.
And ever? Maybe.